Hybrid? Electric? Hydrogen? Why choose when you can have all three?
Mercedes-Benz has developed a modular design that can accommodate a gas-electric, battery electric or hydrogen fuel-cell drivetrain in a compact five-seater it calls Concept BlueZero. By using a common architecture based on the A- and B-Class subcompacts, Mercedes says it can diversify its drivetrains without developing a slew of new models.
"Our modular system allows different drive configurations for every customer requirement," says R&D chief Dr. Thomas Weber. "The modified sandwich-floor platform provides the perfect basis for a wide range of electric drive systems."
Although the three BlueZero cars coming to the Detroit auto show in January are just concepts, they are guideposts to the company's future. Mercedes says it will produce its first fuel-cell cars "on a small scale" next year and offer a "small-scale production" of EVs in 2010.
Mercedes says BlueZero allows it to easily embrace "electromobility" in three ways:
* E-Cell - a battery electric vehicle with a range of about 125 miles.
* E-Cell Plus - a range-extended electric vehicle that uses a small gasoline engine to recharge the battery as it approaches depletion. Think Chevrolet Volt but smaller.
* F-Cell - a hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle with a range of about 248 miles.
The three BlueZero vehicles share components, and the design and dimensions are identical. Although the three cars are about the same size as a Honda Fit, Mercedes says they seat five adults and have plenty of cargo space. They are "electric cars offering everyday practicality," says Mercedes boss Dieter Zetsche.
The "sandwich floor" architecture puts the battery pack and other components under the floor, creating plenty of room inside while giving the cars a low center of gravity, agile handing and excellent crash safety, Mercedes says.
All of the cars feature a liquid-cooled lithium-ion battery with a maximum capacity of 35 kWh; Mercedes says they charge in four hours when plugged into a typical wall outlet. The electric motor produces 70 kW (about 94 horsepower) and 236 foot-pounds of torque, propelling the little runabout to 62 mph in a little less than 11 seconds.
The E-Cell Plus uses a 1.0-liter turbocharged engine (the same one found in the Smart fortwo) to keep the battery going. Mercedes didn't offer any details on the fuel-cell drivetrain, but there's probably not much new to say considering the company's been developing hydrogen cars for six years.
The exterior styling provides a glimpse of the next-gen B-Class vehicles we'll see in 2010, although the translucent body panels, clear wheel covers and "three-dimensional light effects" integrated into those 20-inch wheels probably won't see production.
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